I hadn’t planned on going home to vote. Not because I didn’t care or didn’t want to. My son was six months old and even a trip to Sainsbury’s had begun to feel like an episode of Challenge Anneka, so the idea of travelling home yet again with him on my own felt like too tall a task.
But in the week of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, momentum on the #hometovote campaign gathered pace at a rate of knots. Soon, it was clear that this was going to be unlike any other moment in modern Irish social history. By the time I had thought ‘feck it, let’s do it’ – don’t all great stories begin like that? – direct flights out of any London airport to Cork were sold out. I had decided that I was going home to vote, no matter what – it was just going to take 21 hours and three flights to get there.
A buzz surrounded every Ryanair and Aer Lingus gate I walked past. Our national commitment to giving Irish women the right to govern their own bodies was contagious and all around the world, people were willing us to the finish line. Buoyed by the comradery of this mass pilgrimage, I crossed the gate of my brother’s old school and marked a big, fat satisfying X in the ‘yes’ box before turning around to begin my return journey. So many people made far longer, more tiring journeys than I that day. Still, none of our travels compared to those made by the thousands of Irish women who, for too long, were denied access to abortion. Us, an army of thousands, travelled so that no more Irish women have to. In doing so, I got more than a chance to exercise my vote – I got an education in what it means to be Irish abroad.
Our individual reasons for leaving Ireland are as varied as we are. Many of us left for work, some for education, some for love and, as uncomfortable as it is to hear, some of us left because Ireland wasn’t representative or welcoming of who we were. It is those things that drove us to leave that also will us to vote. We know the possibility of what Ireland can be and we don’t have to live there to shape who she is. That’s why I’ve joined Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad (VICA) to campaign for Irish citizens abroad, like me, to have the right to vote in presidential elections. Our president represents Ireland on the global stage. As someone living abroad, that global view of Ireland directly impacts my experience and I should have the right to influence who that representative is.
We had much to celebrate last year and again recently with the Westminster vote for abortion rights in Northern Ireland, and Irish people abroad will continue to answer that call. We’ll vote when we can, we’ll pay for the flights of others and we’ll share the message. But later this year, we need you to do the same.
As per the Irish government’s pledge, if you currently live in Ireland, you’ll be asked to vote on whether Irish people like me, can have a say in who our president is. If you don’t have the right to vote, do what you did last year and what you did four years ago, and share the message with those at home. Over 100 countries around the world extend voting rights to their citizens abroad. A progressive, inclusive Ireland has to be one that includes all of her citizens, no matter their location. When Mary Robinson lit a candle in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin, it became a beacon to Irish people abroad – a light to find our way home. We did find our way home on 25 May last year – we came in our thousands and we voted ‘yes’. Now do the same for us.